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It's 1891, and once again Superintendent Thomas Pitt of London's Bow Street Station is called upon to solve a difficult case (Ashworth Hall, 1997, etc., etc.). The victim this time is emancipated, argumentative Unity Bellwood, a young ""new woman"" and an expert on ancient languages who was employed as research assistant by the Reverend Ramsey Parmenter, the highly respected vicar of St. Michael's Church. Unity was killed instantly in a fall down the grand staircase at 17 Brunswick Gardens, residence of Parmenter, his wife Vita, son Mallory, daughters Clarice and Tryphena and--a shocker for Pitt--Dominic Corde. Now a curate, Dominic was once Pitt's brother-in-law, widower of his wife Charlotte's sister who'd died ten years before, lust before Unity fell, she was heard to call out ""No. . . no, Reverend""; meanwhile, there are no signs to indicate accident, and an autopsy reveals that the victim was three months pregnant. Parmenter denies guilt, as do the others, and Pitt is faced with a seemingly unsolvable puzzle. Much--unendingly so--is made of Dominic's unsavory past, which Pitt painstakingly investigates, and of his redemption in the church, under Parmenter's guidance. A second death in the household is taken as a confession until Pitt, aided by Charlotte, realizes he's taken a wrong turn and at very long last gets it right. A scenario that might have been intriguing is drained of both suspense and momentum by endless, long-winded, stately discussions and musings on the nature of man and faith. A far cry from this veteran author's best and a test of endurance for even the most devoted fan.

Pub Date: April 1st, 1998
Page count: 400pp
Publisher: Fawcett/Ballantine